Where We Work

The Chicago region has one of the most complicated geo-political landscapes in the nation, covering three states. Northeastern Illinois has more units of local government than any other metropolitan region in the nation. Land use decisions are made daily within these municipal boundaries, often in isolation, and with a limited view of how it will affect the region’s health, resilience, and biodiversity.

Rivers, streams, trails, habitat, and other landscape-scale projects do not respect these political boundaries. Since Openlands’ founding, we have played a critical role as the only conservation organization looking systematically across the region at the relationship between the natural environment, urban growth, community health, and comprehensive land-use planning.

Our projects are at the scale of the region

map of Openlands area of service, where it focuses its programs and projects.

Looking at the scale of the region requires that projects be dynamic, strategic, and collaborative with diverse partners and communities. We take on initiatives that light up our whole region, such as advocating for stronger water quality standards and creating the region’s first headwater streams plan. We are an incubator for innovative programs that engage community members in advocating for and enjoying nature, like Space to Grow © and TreeKeepers. These programs and projects transform our communities, enrich the way we teach our children, expand how we understand and interact with nature, and reconnect and heal the ecology of our waterways.

As a trusted organizational partner and convener, we do not hesitate to join the fight against major transportation and infrastructure projects that would impact critical natural and agricultural resources. We build coalitions, provide leadership, and litigate when prudent.

Priority Landscapes

Cook County, Illinois

Openlands works in Chicago and Cook County to protect and restore land, take care of the urban forest, and educate communities and schools on the importance of nature.

Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

Located an hour’s drive from the 12 million residents of the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and Rockford, the newly-designated Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge is the first such refuge within 100 miles of Chicago.

Lake County, Illinois

As Illinois’ most biologically diverse county, Lake County is a priority for Openlands. In January 2018, Conserve Lake County merged into Openlands.

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Since the early 1990s, Openlands has worked to establish, restore, and protect the Chicago region’s largest conserved open space, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Will County, Illinois.